Skip to main content Accessibility help
Hostname: page-component-77ffc5d9c7-6tv98 Total loading time: 0.34 Render date: 2021-04-22T14:13:03.545Z Has data issue: false Feature Flags: { "shouldUseShareProductTool": true, "shouldUseHypothesis": true, "isUnsiloEnabled": true, "metricsAbstractViews": false, "figures": false, "newCiteModal": false, "newCitedByModal": true }

Prevalence, demographic variation and psychological correlates of exposure to police victimisation in four US cities

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  11 November 2016

J. E. DeVylder
School of Social Work, University of Maryland, Baltimore, MD, USA
H. Y. Oh
University of California Berkeley, School of Public Health, Berkeley, CA, USA
B. Nam
School of Social Work, University of Maryland, Baltimore, MD, USA
T. L. Sharpe
School of Social Work, University of Maryland, Baltimore, MD, USA
M. Lehmann
School of Social Work, University of Maryland, Baltimore, MD, USA
B. G. Link
School of Public Policy, University of California Riverside, Riverside, CA, USA



Victimisation by the police is purported to be widespread in cities in the USA, but there is limited data on police–public encounters from community samples. This is partly due to an absence of measures for assessing police violence exposure from the standpoint of civilians. As such, the demographic distribution and mental health correlates of police victimisation are poorly understood. The aims of this study were to present community-based prevalence estimates of positive policing and police victimisation based on assessment with two novel measures, and to test the hypotheses that (1) exposure to police victimisation would vary across demographic groups and (2) would be associated with depression and psychological distress.


The Survey of Police–Public Encounters study surveyed adults residing in four US cities to examine the prevalence, demographic distribution and psychological correlates of police victimisation. Participants (N = 1615) completed measures of psychological distress (K-6 scale), depression (Patient Health Questionnaire 9) and two newly constructed measures of civilian-reported police–public encounters. Both measures were developed to assess police victimisation based on the WHO domains of violence, which include physical violence (with and without a weapon, assessed separately), sexual violence (inappropriate sexual contact, including public strip searches), psychological violence (e.g., threatening, intimidating, stopping without cause, or using discriminatory slurs) and neglect (police not responding when called or responding too late). The Police Practices Inventory assesses lifetime history of exposure to positive policing and police victimisation, and the Expectations of Police Practices Scale assesses the perceived likelihood of future incidents of police victimisation. Linear regression models were used to test for associations between police–public encounters and psychological distress and depression.


Psychological violence (18.6%) and police neglect (18.8%) were commonly reported in this sample and a substantial minority of respondents also reported more severe forms of violence, specifically physical (6.1%), sexual (2.8%) and physical with a weapon (3.3%). Police victimisation was more frequently reported by racial/ethnic minorities, males, transgender respondents and younger adults. Nearly all forms of victimisation (but not positive policing) were associated with psychological distress and depression in adjusted linear regression models.


Victimisation by police appears to be widespread, inequitably distributed across demographic groups and psychologically impactful. These findings suggest that public health efforts to both reduce the prevalence of police violence and to alleviate its psychological impact may be needed, particularly in disadvantaged urban communities.

Special Articles
Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2016 

Access options

Get access to the full version of this content by using one of the access options below.


Balsam, KF, Rothblum, ED, Beauchaine, TP (2005). Victimization over the life span: a comparison of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and heterosexual siblings. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology 73, 477487.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Borum, R, Swanson, J, Swartz, M, Hiday, V (1997). Substance abuse, violent behavior, and police encounters among persons with severe mental disorder. Journal of Contemporary Criminal Justice 13, 236250.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Brucato, B (2015). The new transparency: police violence in the context of ubiquitous surveillance. Media and Communication 3, 3955.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Brunson, RK (2007). “Police don't like black people”: African-American young men's accumulated police experiences. Criminology & Public Policy 6, 71101.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Canter, RJ (1982). Sex differences in self-report delinquency. Criminology 20, 373393.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Cheng, ZH (2015). Asian Americans and European Americans’ stigma levels in response to biological and social explanations of depression. Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology 50, 767776.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Clarke, S (2009). Arrested oversight: a comparative analysis and case study of how civilian oversight of the police should function and how it fails. Columbia Journal of Law and Social Problems 43, 149.Google Scholar
Cooper, H, Moore, L, Gruskin, S, Krieger, N (2004). Characterizing perceived police violence: implications for public health. American Journal of Public Health 94, 11091118.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Decker, SH (1981). Citizen attitudes toward the police: a review of past findings and suggestions for future policy. Journal of Police Science and Administration 9, 8087.Google Scholar
Flanagan, TJ, Vaughn, MS (1996). Public opinion about police abuse of force. In Police Violence: Understanding and Controlling Police Abuse of Force (Ed. Geller, W.A. and Toch, H.), pp. 113128. Yale University Press: New Haven.Google Scholar
Fowler, PJ, Tompsett, CJ, Braciszewski, JM, Jacques-Tiura, AJ, Baltes, BB (2009). Community violence: a meta-analysis on the effect of exposure and mental health outcomes of children and adolescents. Development and Psychopathology 21, 227259.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Friedman, MS, Marshal, MP, Guadamuz, TE, Wei, C, Wong, CF, Saewyc, EM, Stall, R (2011). A meta-analysis of disparities in childhood sexual abuse, parental physical abuse, and peer victimization among sexual minority and sexual nonminority individuals. American Journal of Public Health 101, 14811494.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Fryer, RG Jr (2016). An empirical analysis of racial differences in police use of force. Technical Report, National Bureau of Economic Research.Google Scholar
Geller, A, Fagan, J, Tyler, T, Link, BG (2014). Aggressive policing and the mental health of young urban men. American Journal of Public Health 104, 23212327.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Grant, BF, Stinson, FS, Dawson, DA, Chou, SP, Dufour, MC, Compton, W, Pickering, RP, Kaplan, K (2004). Prevalence and co-occurrence of substance use disorders and independent mood and anxiety disorders: results from the national epidemiologic survey on alcohol and related conditions. Archives of General Psychiatry 61, 807816.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Hadden, BR, Tolliver, W, Snowden, F, Brown-Manning, R (2016). An authentic discourse: recentering race and racism as factors that contribute to police violence against unarmed Black or African American men. Journal of Human Behavior in the Social Environment 26, 336349.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Hawker, DS, Boulton, MJ (2000). Twenty years’ research on peer victimization and psychosocial maladjustment: a meta-analytic review of cross-sectional studies. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry 41, 441455.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Herek, GM (2009). Hate crimes and stigma-related experiences among sexual minority adults in the United States prevalence estimates from a national probability sample. Journal of Interpersonal Violence 24, 5474.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Hughes, T, McCabe, SE, Wilsnack, SC, West, BT, Boyd, CJ (2010). Victimization and substance use disorders in a national sample of heterosexual and sexual minority women and men. Addiction 105, 21302140.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Jee-Lyn García, J, Sharif, MZ (2015). Black Lives Matter: a commentary on racism and public health. American Journal of Public Health 105, e27e30.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Jensen, JD, Holton, AE, Krakow, M, Weaver, J, Donovan, E, Tavtigian, S (2016). Colorectal cancer prevention and intentions to use low-dose aspirin: a survey of 1000 US adults aged 40–65. Cancer Epidemiology 41, 99105.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Johnson, R, Harkins, K, Cary, M, Sankar, P, Karlawish, J (2015). The relative contributions of disease label and disease prognosis to Alzheimer's stigma: a vignette-based experiment. Social Science & Medicine 143, 117127.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Kahn, KB, Goff, PA, Lee, JK, Motamed, D (2016). Protecting whiteness white phenotypic racial stereotypicality reduces police use of force. Social Psychological and Personality Science 7, 403411.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Kessler, RC, Barker, PR, Colpe, LJ, Epstein, JF, Gfroerer, JC, Hiripi, E, Howes, MJ, Normand, ST, Manderscheid, RW, Walters, EE, Zaslavsky, AM (2003 a). Screening for serious mental illness in the general population. Archives of General Psychiatry 60, 184189.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Kessler, RC, Berglund, P, Demler, O, Jin, R, Koretz, D, Merikangas, KR, Rush, J, Walters, EE, Wang, PS (2003 b). The epidemiology of major depressive disorder: results from the National Comorbidity Survey Replication (NCS-R). JAMA 289, 30953105.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Kroenke, K, Spitzer, RL (2002). The PHQ-9: a new depression diagnostic and severity measure. Psychiatric Annals 32, 17.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Krug, EG, Mercy, JA, Dahlberg, LL, Zwi, AB (2002). The world report on violence and health. Lancet 360, 10831088.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Kurutz, JG, Johnson, DL, Sugden, BW (1996). The United States Postal Service employee assistance program: a multifaceted approach to workplace violence prevention. In Violence on the Job (Ed. VandenBos, G. & Bulatao, E.). American Psychological Association: Washington, DC.Google Scholar
Landis, JR, Koch, GG (1977). The measurement of observer agreement for categorical data. Biometrics, 159174.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
MacDonald, J, Stokes, RJ, Ridgeway, G, Riley, KJ (2007). Race, neighbourhood context and perceptions of injustice by the police in Cincinnati. Urban Studies 44, 25672585.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Maniglio, R (2009). Severe mental illness and criminal victimization: a systematic review. Acta Psychiatrica Scandinavica 119, 180191.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Miller, TR, Lawrence, BA, Carlson, NN, Hendrie, D, Randall, S, Spicer, RS (2016). Perils of police action: a cautionary tale from US data sets. Injury Prevention. Published Online First: accessed September 23, 2016: doi: 10.1136/injuryprev-2016–042023.Google Scholar
Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (2015). Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. Retrieved 7 July 2016 from Scholar
Ross, CT (2015). A multi-level Bayesian analysis of racial bias in police shootings at the county-level in the United States, 2011–2014. PloS ONE 10, e0141854.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Rothman, EF, Exner, D, Baughman, AL (2011). The prevalence of sexual assault against people who identify as gay, lesbian, or bisexual in the United States: a systematic review. Trauma, Violence, & Abuse 12, 5566.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Rothwell, GR, Baldwin, JN (2007). Whistle-blowing and the code of silence in police agencies policy and structural predictors. Crime & Delinquency 53, 605632.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Schmitt, MT, Branscombe, NR (2002). The meaning and consequences of perceived discrimination in disadvantaged and privileged social groups. European Review of Social Psychology 12, 167199.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Sim, J, Wright, CC (2005). The kappa statistic in reliability studies: use, interpretation, and sample size requirements. Physical Therapy 85, 257268.Google ScholarPubMed
Smith, G (2004). Rethinking police complaints. British Journal of Criminology 44(1), 1533.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Son, IS, Rome, DM (2004). The prevalence and visibility of police misconduct: a survey of citizens and police officers. Police Quarterly 7, 179204.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Tinghög, G, Andersson, D, Bonn, C, Böttiger, H, Josephson, C, Lundgren, G, Västfjäll, D, Kirchler, M, Johannesson, M (2013). Intuition and cooperation reconsidered. Nature 498, E1E2.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Weitzer, R (2000). White, black, or blue cops? Race and citizen assessments of police officers. Journal of Criminal Justice 28, 313324.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Weitzer, R, Tuch, SA (2004). Race and perceptions of police misconduct. Social Problems 51, 305325.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
West, SG, Finch, JF, Curran, PJH, Rick, H (Ed.) (1995). Structural Equation Modeling: Concepts, Issues, and Applications. Sage Publications, Inc.: Thousand Oaks, CA, USA, pp. 5675.Google Scholar

DeVylder supplementary material S1


File 29 KB

DeVylder supplementary material S2

DeVylder supplementary material

File 36 KB

Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Full text views reflects PDF downloads, PDFs sent to Google Drive, Dropbox and Kindle and HTML full text views.

Total number of HTML views: 307
Total number of PDF views: 822 *
View data table for this chart

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between 11th November 2016 - 22nd April 2021. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Linked content

Send article to Kindle

To send this article to your Kindle, first ensure is added to your Approved Personal Document E-mail List under your Personal Document Settings on the Manage Your Content and Devices page of your Amazon account. Then enter the ‘name’ part of your Kindle email address below. Find out more about sending to your Kindle. Find out more about sending to your Kindle.

Note you can select to send to either the or variations. ‘’ emails are free but can only be sent to your device when it is connected to wi-fi. ‘’ emails can be delivered even when you are not connected to wi-fi, but note that service fees apply.

Find out more about the Kindle Personal Document Service.

Prevalence, demographic variation and psychological correlates of exposure to police victimisation in four US cities
Available formats

Send article to Dropbox

To send this article to your Dropbox account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your <service> account. Find out more about sending content to Dropbox.

Prevalence, demographic variation and psychological correlates of exposure to police victimisation in four US cities
Available formats

Send article to Google Drive

To send this article to your Google Drive account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your <service> account. Find out more about sending content to Google Drive.

Prevalence, demographic variation and psychological correlates of exposure to police victimisation in four US cities
Available formats

Reply to: Submit a response

Your details

Conflicting interests

Do you have any conflicting interests? *